The man who was accused of kidnapping an Alabama billionaire last year as part of a $250,000 extortion plot has pleaded guilty to federal charges carrying a lengthy sentence.
Matthew Burke, 35, on Thursday pleaded guilty to counts of kidnapping, bank fraud and conspiracy in connection with the September 2019 home invasion targeting prominent Birmingham businessman Elton B Stephens Jr.
Authorities alleged that Burke and his alleged accomplice, fiancée Tabatha Hodges, 34, had brought the woman’s two children along for the home invasion.
In exchange for Burke’s change of plea, prosecutors have agreed to drop additional counts and recommend a sentence of 17 years in prison. Sentencing is set for November 2.
Matthew Burke, 35 (left), has pleaded guilty to kidnapping, bank fraud and conspiracy charges for the September 2020 home invasion targeting billionaire Elton Stephens Jr (right)
Under the conditions of the plea agreement, Burke has given up his right to appeal the conviction and sentence.
Had he been found guilty at trial, Burke could have faced up to life in prison.
Hodges, who faces the same charges as Burke, is scheduled to have a change of plea hearing on August 31.
According to an indictment, Stephens awoke in his rental home at around 8.30am on September 11, 2020, to find two suspects, later identified at Burke and Hodges, inside the residence along with two children, ages 11 and 14.
Authorities believe the pair had been inside the home since 2am and had already stolen three firearms, including two pistols and a shotgun.
Burke falsely claimed that he had just bought the home and demanded to know why Stephens was there.
During a subsequent exchange about Stephens’ money and real estate holdings, Burke allegedly asked the billionaire: ‘how much life you think you have left?’ to which Stephens replied, ’10 years.’
Burke’s fiancée and alleged accomplice, Tabatha Hodges, is scheduled to have change of plea hearing on August 31
Burke was said to have stated: ‘I think you have 20 more, I think you do. Good healthy years, being successful in whatever it is you may choose to do, after this, as long as you do this right.’
Burke then allegedly threatened to kill Stephens and his family if he tried to escape, and hauled him off to a mobile home in St Clair County.
There, the pair forced Stephens to wire $250,00 into their bank accounts, according to the indictment.
After wiring the ransom, Stephens was returned to his rental home unharmed and his suspected kidnappers fled in his Toyota Tacoma, which the billionaire said they could keep as a ‘bonus.’
Stephens later told authorities that he did not known either suspect, and did not know the two children who were reportedly with them.
Burke and Hodges were arrested by police the following day. A search of their trailer turned up several items that had been stolen from Stephens, including a digital camera, credit and debit cards, his Toyota truck, a checkbook, a cooler and watches valued around $2,500.
Those items and the $250,000 have since been recovered.
When questioned by police, Hodges claimed that Stephens had sexually assaulted her and that the valuables in the trailer were meant to be ‘collateral,’ but she later admitted that she had lied and that she had never seen the elderly businessman before the home invasion.
Stephens is the son of Elton Bryson Stephens Sr., an American businessman who founded EBSCO Industries in 1944.
According to Forbes, the Stephens family was worth $4billion as of 2014 and ranked No. 66 on the list of America’s richest families that year.
The publication reported that EBSCO Industries, which has more than 40 business units, had a revenue of $2.8million and was listed at No. 166 on America’s Largest Private Companies in 2019.